Addendum on vegetarianism

In the November 9, 2009, New Yorker issue, staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert discusses vegetarianism and factory farming in “Flesh of Your Flesh,” in which she reviews Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book Eating Animals. Kolbert’s review (which reads as effectively as a full-fledged article, as the best reviews always do) struck me in the way the CBC documentary on overfishing (see my last post) did.

It’s not a new topic. From John Robbins to Michael Pollan, we’ve repeatedly heard the same story, about the horrific way we treat livestock on modern mega farms. But it does bear repeating.

In the November 30, 2009, issue, there were four letters to the editor about Kolbert’s piece. They’re worth a read. In particular, the first letter gave me pause:

“[V]egetarian moralism denies an essential fact of living: death … In the end, this is what worries me most about Foer’s arguments—that so many are so ignorant of their food choices, so ignorant of agriculture, and, finally, so ignorant of what awaits us all.”

I agree that it is life-transforming to witness death. And I somewhat see his point: Just because I might refrain from killing animals doesn’t mean that they’ll never die.

Perhaps what matters is one’s attitude toward killing. In pre-industrial times, people saw firsthand the slaughter of livestock for food. By bearing witness to death, perhaps by their own  hands, they participated in a natural ecological cycle and could viscerally understand the sacrifice. But how many of us today raise livestock, hunt game, catch fish, or otherwise kill our own meat?

When I see glistening filets at a fish counter, I admit that I react first to their culinary appeal, not to their formerly living, breathing sources. Until I’m more cognizant of the fish rather than the filet, maybe I’d best stick to tofu…


  1. this summer, i was up in alaska. everyone told me i had to had to eat the salmon while up there. i told myself that if i could grab a fish while it was in the river (during the salmon run) i could eat it. but i couldn’t even bring squeamish-me to touch it. how could i eat it, then? at least that’s my logic..




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